June 22, 2011

Emperor Penguin’s Wrong Turn Brings It To New Zealand

Residents along the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand were treated with a rare visit by an Emperor penguin on Monday, astonishing wildlife experts, who say the bird was more than 1,900 miles away from its Antarctic home.

The penguin, a juvenile male, arrived at a beach on the Kapiti Coast, 25 miles north of Wellington on Monday afternoon, said the Department of Conservation (DOC).

DOC spokesman, Peter Simpson, said there is only one other recording of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand: at Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967.

Simpson said he didn't believe the initial reports that the visitor was an Emperor penguin, which can grow to 45 inches tall. "At first I thought it must have been some sort of seal but we went and checked it out and to our immense surprise it did indeed turn out to be an Emperor penguin," he told the AFP news agency.

He said the bird seemed to be in good health and was taking regular swims to cool down in the balmy New Zealand climate; balmy, that is, to a penguin. "At this time of year he should be sitting on the sea ice in Antarctica in 24-hour darkness," said Simpson.

Simpson said that Emperor penguins "go out to sea to feed in the Antarctic summer." "This one," he explained, is a juvenile "and it's his first time out, so it looks like he's gone a long way out and got lost."

Simpson said wildlife experts were monitoring the penguin and expected it would eventually depart for the long swim home. "I expect it has some sort of homing instinct," he noted.

He added that the penguin had proved an attraction for curious locals, who had been warned to give the bird a lot of space and to keep dogs on leashes when nearby. Penguins can give vicious bites if they are threatened.

The DOC was first alerted of the visitor by Kapiti resident Christine Wilton who was walking her dog Monday afternoon at Peka Peka Beach. "I saw this glistening white thing standing up and I thought I was seeing things," she said.

She contacted the Waikanae office and rangers came to investigate. At first glance, the large bird looked to be a big white ball in the sand. But then it stood up, looking relaxed and in good condition. It was later confirmed that the visiting Antarctic bird was a juvenile male standing about 3 feet tall.

Emperor penguins live in colonies ranging in size from a few hundred to more than 20,000 pairs, according to the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Emperor penguin was documented in the award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins."


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